12/17/2003 12:00AM

Some Eclipses too close to call

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PHILADELPHIA - When my Eclipse ballot and accompanying DRF past performances arrived the other day, I tried to ignore them. Eventually, even unpleasant tasks must be faced. Usually, I love poring over the year-end data, but this was never going to be an easy task.

Too many categories are just too close - the 2-year-old males, the 3-year-olds, the older fillies, the grass horses, even the older males and Horse of the Year. Halfbridled was the only name I didn't linger over once I finally opened the envelope.

Without a whole lot of conviction in some cases, I came to the following conclusions:

Two-Year-Old Colt or Gelding Cuvee. I am aware the colt finished last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But he was beaten by only 58 lengths.

In a year where no horse did much, Cuvee won three graded stakes at three different tracks. He ran consecutive Beyers of 103 and 101.

If Lion Heart wins Saturday's Hollywood Futurity, I may change my mind and vote for him.

The most impressive 2-year-old I saw was Tapit. His victory in the Laurel Futurity was overpowering, but he only raced twice. If this were about 2004, my vote would go to Tapit.

Two-Year-Old Filly

Halfbridled. You can't do better than perfect.

Three-Year-Old Colt or Gelding

Funny Cide. This was not one of my more difficult votes.

I've listened to the Empire Maker-Funny Cide debate. If you really want to go race by race, a reasonable argument can be made for Empire Maker. However, Empire Maker had zero cachet, had no impact on the sport, and was whisked away to the breeding shed by a stable that has more money than many countries. Furthermore, the usual racing snobs ridiculously overhyped the colt.

Funny Cide was "the" racing story of the year. For the Belmont Stakes, this horse drew a TV audience that should have been impossible. That counts for something. And Funny Cide did win our biggest race. The Frankel horses had him sandwiched at the top of lane in the Kentucky Derby, and Funny Cide ran away from them. That's worth about three races to me. Funny Cide should win. And I will be very surprised if he does not win.

Three-Year-Old Filly

Weak Bunch. That's not the name of a filly. That's just reality. No clue on this.

Older Male

Mineshaft. Congaree and Medaglia d'Oro were every bit as good, but they simply did not pile up as many big wins.

Older Female

Sightseek. She never won in California and never lost outside of it. Her Breeders' Cup non-effort was hard to overlook, but there really is nowhere else to go.

Azeri lost her speed somewhere along the line. She kept beating the same overmatched horses. Then, she couldn't beat them and she was gone.

Sprinter

Aldebaran. Trying to pick between Aldebaran and Shake You Down is almost impossible. Aldebaran ran only once at six furlongs and was nowhere in the Breeders' Cup, but he did win four graded stakes at four different tracks at seven furlongs. I figured seven furlongs was a sprint, so this was my choice.

Shake You Down won six times at six furlongs, including two stakes. He ran amazing Beyers. He is absolutely a worthy candidate.

One thing is certain: If the two candidates met A Huevo in a six-furlong dash in 2007, they would have no chance.

Horse of the Year

Mineshaft. He won all the right races, but never beat the right horses. But people did know where and when Mineshaft was running. Still, it would have been nice to see him appear at Santa Anita.

The turf categories are kind of a nuisance, so I am still thinking.

The humans? Frankel and Bailey will win. Don't they always?

Best owner? Michael Gill has won more than 400 races. That should count for something. Ed Gann has had just 74 starters. They have an incredible 13 graded stakes wins and earnings of $5.1 million.

Handicapper? Not me.